All races have their ups and downs.
And for the 33 racers competing in the third-annual Yukon Adventure Challenge on Saturday, this was no surprise.
“The course always has a lot of hills. For some reason these guys like hills and I don’t know why. Nobody else does,” said Cory Bruneau from Team Better Bodies, who finished second in the four-person category. “I guess that’s a part of adventure racing.”
“It was a really tough course,” said Greg McHale, who organized the event with his wife Denise. “To pack a course like that into 12 hours is a huge accomplishment for an athlete. So the people who finished this event have really accomplished something.”
In fact, finishing the race at all is something to be proud of.
“Some didn’t finish because of navigation problems, some didn’t finish due to illness, some to injury,” said McHale. “These are the kinds of things that happen in adventure racing.”
“You’ve got to go into it with an open mind and expect the worst but hope for the best,” echoed Bruneau, whose team immediately fell behind in the race because of a broken bike chain, but made up ground on the uphill climbs.
In the opening stage of the three-stage race, competitors took off from Carcross on mountain bikes, made their way to the top of Montana Mountain and down the other side on the Sam McGee Trail.
From there the racers took to the waters of Tagish Lake and paddled 15 kilometres, back towards Carcross.
Then they took on the most grueling leg of the race, the trekking section. Facing more inclines, swamps and brush, competitors trekked up Caribou Mountain, down to the Carcross Desert and into town to finish at the burnt remains of the SS Tutshi.
“I stopped training when I started working; my work is my training,” said Mike Martin, a tree cutter, who finished first in the solo category with a time of 11 hours, 40 minutes. “Even before this race I was putting in long days to get my body used to it.”
However, Martin did not grab the lead early on and hold it from the start.
“There were three of us who were leapfrogging in the first two legs,” said Ryan Leef, who came second last year in a two-person team. “In the last leg I don’t know where anybody went.
“I found the course a lot harder than last year.”
Leef finished second in the solo event with a time of 12 hours and 50 minutes.
“Last year’s was designed to be a 24-hour course. But this one had so much elevation, both in the mountain biking and the trekking,” he said.
Leef, a novice kayaker, experienced the most difficulty in the second stage of the race, immediately tipping his boat. To make matters worse, Leef’s friend who rented him the canoe left a note on the boat jokingly saying he was going to give Leef’s wife a call while he was away racing.
“It kept me entertained most of the way. I’ll pay him back for that one later,” said Leef.
For many, the scenery the race provided made it all worthwhile.
“A lot of the time you do a big climb to no purpose. This at least had beautiful views and a great single track to come down, so you felt you did something for a reason,” said Chris Koch, who has 11 years of adventure-racing experience. Koch finished third in the solo event with a time of 13 hours 42 minutes.
“The neat thing about it is that there’s no trails. They didn’t tell you which way to go; you’re just literally looking at a mountain going, ‘Wow, that’s all cliff, that’s all cliff, I’m going to go up the shoulder and hopefully it goes.’”
Besides the beauty of adventure racing, some simply enjoy the discombobulated nature of the sport.
“What I really like about this race is that you get to a checkpoint and you’ll think there’s people ahead of you and people behind you,” said the reigning champ, Martin.
“And you get to the next checkpoint and you find out the people behind you got ahead of you, and the people ahead of you went off somewhere — you don’t know where.”
Racers were treated to a banquet Sunday night at the Mount Macintyre Recreation Centre, where awards were given.
“This one-day race had more wilderness than some expedition (week-long) races I’ve been on,” said the experienced Koch, who has competed throughout the world in adventure races and who travelled here from Kamloops, BC, to compete.
“Up here you’re blessed with a huge choice of wilderness. A lot of places don’t have that opportunity.”
Solo: 1st — Mike Martin, 11 hours, 40 min.; 2nd — Ryan Leef 12 hours, 50 min.; 3rd – Chris Koch 13 hours, 42 min.
Two-person teams: 1st — Team Steele (Tom Wyers, Justin Fradette), 16 hours, 58 min.
Four-person teams: 1st — Miss Adventure (Pam James, Simon Capoint, Phillippe Mouchet, Johnathon Kerr), 14 hours, 5 min.; 2nd — Better Bodies (Cory Bruneau, Jean Francois Roldan, Rob Legare, Anne Krumsek), 15 hours, 45 min.; 3rd Thick & Thin (Jean Francois Latour, Pauline Frost-Hanberg, Roger Hanberg, Sky Pierson), 18 hours, 27 min.